September-October 2011 Issue • Volume 39 • Issue 7

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Sociologists Explore Conflict at ASA Annual Meeting in Las Vegas

Daniel Fowler, ASA Media Relations and PublicAffairs

asa president Randall Collins

Randall Collins presented his
Presidential Address following the
ASA Awards Ceremony

What happens in Vegas when more than 5,000 sociologists descend on a city known for its bright lights, grand hotels, great restaurants, celebrities, and casinos? Given that it had never happened before, nobody was quite sure.

As it turns out, the result was a highly successful 106th Annual Meeting of the American Sociological Association.

Originally scheduled for Chicago, the Association decided to move its Annual Meeting to Las Vegas for first time in ASA history in response to a protracted labor dispute involving hotels in the Windy City, including the two that had been scheduled to host the meeting.

“The shift in our meeting site from Chicago to Las Vegas was the result of a conflict—an unsettled labor union action against Chicago hotels, that many ASA members felt was important to honor,” said ASA President Randall Collins, University of Pennsylvania.

And thus, although unplanned, the relocation to Caesars Palace in Las Vegas tied together nicely with the meeting theme: “Social Conflict: Multiple Dimensions and Arenas of Social Conflict.”

“While we would have preferred that the labor situation in Chicago didn’t necessitate the move to Las Vegas, it reinforced the fact that social conflict is happening all the time,” said ASA Executive Officer Sally T. Hillsman. “Las Vegas proved to be an exciting and dynamic host city for practitioners of sociology—there was sociology in action literally around every corner—and we think meeting attendance reflected that.” 

Despite the change in location, 5,225 sociologists attended the 2011 Annual Meeting, an increase of more than 600 from 2010 when the meeting was in Atlanta.

Meeting Highlights

Attendance wasn’t the only thing that grew in Las Vegas. The meeting featured 563 sessions and 3,462 presentations—both numbers were increases from 2010 when there were 546 sessions and 3,194 presentations.

Among the sessions were three plenaries focusing on sociological traditions, the changing landscape of sexual politics, and advancement in social movement research. The three presidential panels explored the collapse of the Soviet Union 20 years later, mafias, and the future of capitalism. Other sessions and papers covered such timely topics as same-sex marriage, the recession, war, religion, immigration, race, bullying, crime, families, politics, relationships, technology, poverty, health and healthcare, education, and many others.

On August 21, following the ASA Awards Ceremony, Collins gave his Presidential Address on the time-dynamics of conflict.  Attendees had an opportunity to congratulate Collins and the award winners at the Honorary Reception that followed.

Perhaps not surprisingly, it wasn’t strictly business in Las Vegas. At the Welcoming Reception, ASA members were treated to performances by Sammy Davis, Jr., and  Frank Sinatra (OK, maybe they were Davis and Sinatra impersonators). And, in what might be an ASA first, two sociologists allegedly tied the knot at the meeting’s conclusion.

Sociologists Make News

Sociologists were not the only people who came to the Annual Meeting. Twelve members of the media—including reporters from the Las Vegas NPR affiliate, Chronicle of Higher Education, Inside HigherEd, and Science News—attended this year’s meeting.

Even more impressive were the hundreds of media outlets that ran stories about research presented at the meeting. A study by Dmitry Tumin and Zhenchao Qian, both of Ohio State University, was the subject of more than 345 news articles, according to a Google News search. Their study, which was featured in an ASA press release, found that large weight gains are most likely for men after divorce and for women after marriage.

Among those sociologists whose studies received substantial media coverage were Katrina Leupp, University of Washington; Lisa M. Williams, Ohio State University, and Anthony A. Peguero, Virgnia Tech; W. Bradford Wilcox, University of Virginia, and Andrew Cherlin, Johns Hopkins University; Andrew Perrin, University of North Carolina; and Ilana Demantas, University of Kansas, and Kristen Myers, Northern Illinois University.

Leupp found that working mothers who expressed a supermom attitude that work and home lives can be blended with relative ease showed higher levels of depression than working moms who expected to forego some aspects of their career or parenting to achieve a work-life balance. Williams and Peguero found that bullying victims often suffer academically, particularly high achieving blacks and Latinos. Wilcox and Cherlin found that less-educated Americans are turning their backs on religion. Perrin found that American voters sympathetic to the Tea Party movement reflect four primary cultural and political beliefs. And, Demantas and Myers found shifting domestic roles for men who lost jobs in the current recession.

The ASA Public Information Department oversaw the production and distribution of 13 press releases about research presented at the Annual Meeting—an increase from eight in 2010—and responded to dozens of media inquiries.

In addition to The Chronicle of Higher Education, Inside HigherEd, and Science News, articles tied to the meeting appeared in media outlets including: the Wall Street Journal, USA Today, the Los Angeles Times, the Boston Globe, the Associated Press, msnbc.com, CNN.com, Time, the Huffington Post, the New York Daily News, the New York Post, Yahoo!News, ABCNews.com, the Houston Chronicle, the Chicago Tribune, the Boston Herald, the Orlando Sentinel, WebMD, U.S. News & World Report, FoxNews.com, the Seattle Post-Intelligencer, the Providence Journal, the Las Vegas Sun, the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, the Chicago Sun-Times, and many others.

Interest in studies presented at the Annual Meeting wasn’t limited to the American press either. International media outlets including the United Kingdom’s BBC, Daily Mail, Telegraph, Guardian, Press Association, and Daily Mirror; Canada’s Globe and Mail, Calgary Sun, Toronto Sun, (Montreal) Gazette, and Vancouver Sun; India’s The Times of India and Indian Express; New Zealand’s New Zealand Herald; and Ecuador’s El Telegrafo all published stories on research presented at the meeting.

Building Community and Looking Ahead

Through the use of social media, especially Twitter (twitter.com), the ASA (@ASAnews), attendees, and even those unable to attend the meeting, built a real-time online community. According to Nathan Jurgenson, University of Maryland, there were 559 twitterers using the hashtag #ASA2011 and 3,475 total tweets. Twitter users posted their session notes, general observations about the conference, photos from the conference, meet-ups, and other short remarks using the meeting hashtag.

While the 2011 meeting concluded only weeks ago, planning for the 2012 Annual Meeting, from August 17-20, in Denver is already well underway. Erik Olin Wright, who officially succeeded Randall Collins as ASA president at the end of the 2011 meeting, and members of the 2012 Program Committee are busy developing an exciting program around the theme, “Real Utopias: Emancipatory Projects, Institutional Designs, Possible Futures.” ASA will post the call for papers on the Association website (www.asanet.org) on October 28, and will launch the online paper submission tool on December 8. See you in Denver! 

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